I have eaten more than my share of unappetizing dishes in my day - mostly crow. And dirt? Well, considering my notorious clumsiness, I've dropped God only knows how many doughnuts, hot dogs and deep-fried Twinkies on the ground over the years and still eaten them. And to paraphase Stephen Sondheim: I'm still here.
I don't believe I've ever seen dirt listed as a menu ingredient before I dined at chef-owner Martin Heuser's German bistro, Affare, last night. The small-plate menu includes a salad with an array of fresh greens, asparagus stalks, paper-thin radish slices, flower petals and edible soil. Did I read that correctly?
Yes, according to our server, Josh (formerly of the Brookside Avenues Bistro, like about half of the servers here), who explained that edible soil is not a dirty little secret but a concoction of portobello mushrooms, cocoa, almond oil and chopped almonds. It looks like high-grade mulch and tastes kind of chewy, a little nutty. I wouldn't want to make, you know, a meal of it.
There are also fresh flower blossoms scattered on the equally pretty red-beet salad with goat cheese and spiced pecans. Chef Heuser has opened a visually arresting restaurant - it looks more like an art gallery than Bar Natasha, the best-known previous tenant - and he wants his food to reflect this restaurant's artistic ambitions.
The venue at 1911 Main hasn't had the best track record since Bar Natasha closed in 2008. Local femme mimic Flo's Cabaret was short-lived, but even it lasted longer than the jazz club, 1911 Main, that followed it. You have to give Heuser, his wife, Katrin, and their staff kudos for cleaning the space until almost every surface gleams. The awkwardly large space has been transformed into a very tastefully appointed dining room painted in cool, soothing colors. The concrete floor is now the color of maple syrup, and the tables are covered in crisp white tablecloths, accessorized with shiny flatware, and it's always an asset to look at a good-looking waitstaff.
Heuser makes the desserts, including a warm apple strudel and an airy, custardy cheesecake, in his own kitchen. Patrons who come into Affare looking for fried Schnitzel and Black Forest cake may be disappointed, but adventurous eaters will find the restaurant to be a very European affair.